Rural county clients worry about future of Rural Center

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MADISON, N.C. — The State of North Carolina has reorganized the Rural Economic Development Center to operate under the Department of Commerce, and those that use the Rural Center are wondering where that will leave them.

Mark Wells is a good example.

He’s the executive director of the Rockingham County Business and Technology Center, and right now he’s working on turning methane gas into electricity at the Rockingham County Landfill.

“Your car runs on gasoline. That’s its fuel. So we’re taking methane gas from the landfill, and it’s going to fuel this machine,” Wells said. “This machine” is a 16-cylinder engine that will create 3,000 kilowatts of electricity when fully operational.

The Business and Technology Center can then sell that power to Duke Energy, and that will allow the RCBTC to operate without a dime from Rockingham County taxes.

“We’re literally turning trash into cash,” Wells said.

The project is possible, in part, by $200,000 from the Rural Center.

In fact the RCBTC itself began with a grant from the Rural Center in 2005. Since then, Wells said its helped start 200 business, and those businesses created more than 350 jobs.

There is a reason the state has reorganized the Rural Center, of course.

An audit found the Center’s president, Billy Ray Hall, was making too much money and that the Center hadn’t kept up with grantees to ensure they were meeting goals set in order for them to receive the money.

Hall, the Center’s only president in its 26 year history, retired. Board Chairwoman Valeria Lee resigned.

Now, instead of being overseen by the Department of Commerce, the Center’s programs will run through the Department of Commerce.

The Rural Economic Development Center is no more.

Wells, and town leaders, and business owners in Rockingham County, hope its programs won’t go away and that the 85 rural counties will still have a place to turn when investment capital dries up out in the sticks.

“What is coming out now is a lot of negatives, and I hope they balance it out with the positives that the Rural Center has over the many years its been in service,” Wells said.


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